Now IS the “Good Old Days”

buy the pony
Ahhh, the good old days! Learning to ride a bike…going to school…realizing school sucks and getting out for summer break…realizing summer doesn’t suck but being too ignorant to realize how fleeting it is, thus being able to enjoy it without thinking how little of it is left like I do…first crush…first kiss…second kiss…twenty-eighth kiss…college…college…college…first job…marriage…first baby…every baby…new house…

I took a trip to the good-old-days yesterday, thanks to the realization that 1,000 photos on my phone is probably more than I need to keep readily available. As I was trying to pare it down to more like 100 so as to give my phone about half of its memory back, I couldn’t believe how much my kids had grown in the time it took to take those 1,000 pictures – less than two years. Probably 200 of them were pictures actually taken by my kids, which means they were of things like the back of the driver’s seat in our minivan, or, when they are feeling more artsy, the floor of the car near their seats, revealing a breath-taking array of crushed potato chips, Chick-fil-a french fries, assorted cellophane wrappers, and a discarded, forgotten toy, the desire for which brought them to tears only two days ago…before they got that other toy…which will be in tomorrow’s picture, taken by one of the kids.

But the pictures I actually took, meaning the good ones, were a poignant reminder of how fast life goes. I still feel like my kids are brand new, though I haven’t changed a diaper in almost two years (thank God), and my kids act more like humans than raccoons the majority of the time, which wasn’t the case for what seemed like decades but now seems like four minutes. Even though the pictures I was sorting through were no more than two years old, I felt like an eighty-four-year-old grandpa wondering where the time went.

And then I realized that there will come a time when today seems like ages ago, when the frustrating parts are forgotten, and the photographs we took today will seem like snapshots of a simpler time when everyone was innocent and happy. That’s not the case, of course. The reality is that today my son literally hurt himself while sitting still in his car seat. Actually, he hurt himself when he fell out of his car seat, somehow, while the car was perfectly still and absolutely nothing other than the pulsating energy of an almost-five-year-old body could inexplicably cause him to fall. For a few minutes, I questioned the design flaws in human beings, wondering why we don’t come ready-made to avoid harming ourselves by defying the laws of inertia. But once the can-you-possibly-be-hurt-that-bad-crying stopped, life was pretty good again, and a picture would’ve probably captured what will soon seem like “the good old days.”

My brain isn’t very good at enjoying the moment, embracing the journey, savoring the process, living in the moment, blah, blah, blah. No, my brain would much prefer fretting about how Josiah will hurt himself tonight while he’s sleeping in his padded room…or feeling too sad to look at old pictures because they just remind me that life will never have a pause button – not for the few seconds of bliss that come about once every five years, nor for the moments when I need to hit pause so I don’t hit the person who just did or said something selfish and stupid at my expense.

I have always been hyper-aware of the brevity of life. I’ve thought incessantly about death since I can remember, wondering when it will be my fated turn to get THAT phone call. And then I beat myself up for being so damn morbid. And then I repeat the same pattern over and over. And then I get mad at myself for all the moments I’ve missed repeating this pattern. And then I repeat the pattern again. This is why I am writing this well past my bedtime and why I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in over six months. How I wish I could turn off the madness and live right in the moment, content with whatever my circumstances are right then, whether it’s the moment in the photograph or the moment five minutes later when I’m apologizing to my kids again for using the F-word and the S-word and the D-word when Ellie Ruth does a cartwheel right into Josiah’s face…again.

The point of this post isn’t to beat myself up for sucking at what I’m encouraging you to get better at. It’s just a little note written to all of us to remember that today will probably seem like the good old days at some point. Hopefully this will remind us not only to cherish each moment, but also to remember that the good old days had their bumps and bruises just like today does. There are no good old days. OR, if you’re an optimist (unlike me), every day is the good old days!

So try to remember that life is indeed short, so each day, just buy the damn pony (even if today’s pony is a three-legged, one-eyed, ready-for-the-glue-factory sort of pony).
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A Life Changing Question (with Podcast)

life changing question

 

 

Please check out my new podcast feature at the bottom of this page! Now the post…

 

 

After Riley died (see previous post) I felt completely numb. I had comforted the friend who had the devastating fate of finding Riley unresponsive in his apartment bedroom. I had hugged his broken-hearted mom many times. I had even spoken at his memorial service. Not once did my eyes well up or my voice break through all of this. I felt callous and guilty. I tried to tell myself that I saw this tragedy coming, so I had been ready. I tried to tell myself that, at the end, Riley had been so miserable that he was better off, despite what the rest of us still selfishly wanted. But nothing made me really feel the pain of losing a close friend, a kindred spirit.

Finally, after three weeks of numbness, I cracked. I’m not like an actor who can choose when these emotions will come or how strong they will be. The Mexican restaurant in Dunwoody was far from an ideal location for this needed release, but that’s where it happened. Sitting in a booth with a long-time, very close friend – one of about three people on earth I have ever completely fallen apart in front of – I shed a tear…my voice broke…and I fought back sobs for forty-five minutes.

My friend Mike had never seen me like this despite all of the times we had gotten naked in front of each other…all the times we had stripped bare together. No, no, I fear that the dirty minds out there might be misreading my completely appropriate, non-sexual metaphors. You should be ashamed.

Let me try again: Mike had never seen me cry despite fifteen years of pretty much telling each other about every up and down and deep, dark secret. He had seen my anger and plenty of sarcasm – my two preferred ways for letting pain seep out. But this was different. Mike sat there in respectful silence and said the perfect words of comfort: “Tim, we’ll figure this out together. Obviously, you’re hurting, and I’m here for you. I’m with you in this.”

We sat awhile longer as I tried to compose myself, and then Mike went and changed my entire outlook on myself…

“Tim, can you think of anyone you know who might feel what you’re feeling right now?” he asked.

I responded with the anger I had been feeling at losing someone who got IT: “Yeah, my friend who just died.”

Then he asked me a life changing question: “Tim, what would you tell him if he was feeling what you’re feeling right now?”

Clouds parting…beams of light…eyebrows raised at how much easier it suddenly felt to give myself some grace. In the span of time it took to pose that one simple question, I felt I had been given a new lease to love myself and care for myself despite how depressed and hopeless I felt around that time.

Would I ever tell Riley he needed to suck it up and keep moving forward if I knew he felt like I did right then? No, I’d tell him to take a few days off and see how he felt. Why couldn’t I make the same decision for myself without feeling guilty…like I was failing somehow?

Would I tell Riley that he’d be failing his family if he needed to call time out for a bit, spending some time alone or playing the music that was his only escape? No, I’d tell him that the best version of himself is what he owed his family, and by insisting on forging ahead on the current collision course with disaster, he was certainly not doing his family any favors. I’d tell him it was okay to be weak and to hurt and to be exhausted. I’d tell him it was okay to love himself and to get better.

Mike’s question was raised six months ago now, and I still think about it all the time. Through my mindfulness meditation practice, I’ve also been given some similar images to hold in my mind as I practice self-compassion:

One option is to call to mind a moment when your child seemed particularly vulnerable and those I’d-do-anything-for-this-child instincts took over. By imagining yourself as that very child, you can begin to feel a softness toward yourself just as if you were watching your child try not to cry after falling off his bike. You’d look at the quivering lip and say, “It’s OKAY, little one! It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts; let’s go get an icepack.” You’d hug your child and comfort him/her. (Well, I hope you would!)

Or imagine your own self at a moment in childhood when you felt particularly vulnerable, wishing someone would tell you it was going to be okay, wishing for mom or dad to pick you up and wrap you in comfort and safety. Then return to that moment and be the Adult who parents that hurting, scared child who is still inside of you…inside all of us.

If you’re like me, being tough on yourself comes rather naturally. Why can’t you be more like so-and-so, Tim, and just let things roll off your back? Why can’t you be less of a roller coaster to live with? Why do you insist on thinking about unanswerable questions incessantly? Stop, dammit! What the hell is your problem? Everyone else seems to be handling life’s realities waaaay better than you. Get it together, Tim!

But I’d never say those things to my children or to my friend, Riley, especially if I could look inside their heads and hearts and see the angst raging in them that I feel inside myself so often. I’d just want to sit with them, to let them know they’re not alone…ever. I’d want to say, “I’ll keep sitting as long as it takes because I love you. We’re in this together, all the way to the end.”

So why don’t I say the same things to Tim that I would say to Riley?

What I’ve learned in the past six months is that, when I do practice self-compassion – and I don’t think you are likely to improve much unless you take the time to actually practice – my entire outlook on my struggles changes. By being kinder to myself, I end up being more loving and patient with others. I become more honest about how I’m feeling, less ashamed to admit it. Oddly, I even feel more hopeful that the rough seas are survivable. The water may even become calm someday.

But if it doesn’t, Tim, you’re still valuable, and I still love you, always.

 

 

If you listen to the podcast, I’d love your feedback! Leave a comment below with thoughts and suggestions if you have them.

 

 

Also, if you’d like more Mike Edwards wisdom, take a look at his blog, especially if you like to hear someone express very non-traditional theological views. Enjoy: http://mikeedwards123.wordpress.com/

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In Defense of YOU: Self Compassion

Shake the dustMy friends, I feel like writing this post as a letter to you, whoever and wherever you are. It just feels right based on what I have to say today. Today I want to tell you to have “self compassion” and watch what happens. I’m not very good at this, but I’d like to be, so this letter is to me, too. So give me a minute to defend YOU, and me…to tell you why we should practice compassion toward ourselves. The entire essence of this can be boiled down to this simple question:

Are you trying?

I mean in life…are you trying to be a good employee, spouse, friend, parent…I suspect you are not only trying but trying damn hard in fact. I know I am. So what more would you ask of yourself than to try your best? Would you berate a child who tried and tried to hit a baseball or learn the alphabet but couldn’t quite get it? I hope not, but if so, please consider some therapy.

As a parent I can say that nothing is more endearing than to watch my kids TRY. In fact, it’s even more endearing when they keep trying despite “failing.” It makes me want to wrap them up in my arms and make sure they know damn well how proud of them I am, even if they never “succeed” at this particular task.

Why shouldn’t I treat myself the same way?

I read recently (can’t remember where) that the best people on planet earth are probably not the ones we think of as Good People. The best people are probably the people with horrible internal battles who keep on fighting to grow, to stay alive, to learn to love. This reminded me of one of my favorite poems called “Shake the Dust,” by Anis Mojgani. It’s a “spoken word” poem meaning it’s meant to be performed rather than read, and it’s about as beautiful a message as there is in existence. Take 4 minutes and watch it. If you regret it and can tell me that with honesty, I’ll buy you a new puppy. But while you’re listening, I’ll bet there will be one particular line that will stand out to you. Just listen and I’ll continue below…

 

Did you hear it? The line that you can’t help but pay attention to I mean? No, it’s not “shake the dust.” It’s this one:

“This is for the celibate pedophile who keeps on struggling…shake the dust” (I suspect about 42% of you skipped it and are now going back to watch it. I’ll wait here…).

So have you ever thought about that? That there are such things as celibate pedophiles who keep on struggling against their monstrous urges every day, never giving in to this life-shattering crime. Maybe these are the best people on earth. But the beauty of this poem is not that it includes such people but that it spans the gamut from “fat girls” to “celibate pedophiles.” That’s quite a gamut! Whichever category you resonate with, what better, more profound message is there but to acknowledge your own inherent beauty and goodness, to shake the dust and be proud of who you are? I can’t think of one.

Maybe, just maybe, plain old people like you and me are at least passably good people for getting up in the morning, putting on a brave face as we go about our ordinary existences fraught with endless emotional paper cuts, broken brains and bodies, and the failures we’re embarrassed to admit make us cry in private. But also filled with the simple success of saying something kind when you want to shoot someone the bird…the two-steps-forward-one-(or 2 or 3 sometimes)-step-back dance of a romantic relationship that some days doesn’t feel all that romantic…the daily dilemmas of wanting to be a perfect parent when you are confronted daily, even hourly, with quandaries no one prepared you for in school.

So I’ll ask again: Are you trying? If you answered yes, then cut yourself some slack, give yourself the pat on the back that your boss should’ve given you, treat yourself to dessert without berating yourself for the extra calories. Tell yourself what the narrator of one of my favorite mindful meditations tells his listeners at the very end: He says, “You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.” You are doing your best, right? Well, that IS enough.

So shake the dust, my friends, and know that in your humanness, you are never alone,

Tim

 

*You probably know someone who needs to shake the dust. Share this with them. Or just give them a call. Or a hug.

**People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!

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